This month the Pan-European Commission on Health and Development sponsored by the World Health organization – Europe has released the results of a year-long research project on how to rethink health and sustainable development after the pandemic.
The report, titled “Drawing light from the pandemic – A new strategy for health and sustainable development”, starts from the concept of One Health and pushes it forward to include socio-economic dimensions, mental health, and citizen empowerment in a similar way to the concept of Circular Health developed by Dr. Capua here at the One Health Center.
The document identifies seven goals and related recommendations to achieve stronger and more resilient health systems and communities. Since some of these are particularly technical, this blog post will focus on the most interesting one for a general audience.
Operationalize the concept of One Health at all levels
The concept of One Health has been around for many decades, however, it has never been fully incorporated in policies and government decisions, resulting in a segmented approach to important issues where each ministry and department addressed them from their narrower perspective. The commission calls the government to develop cross-government strategies based on the concept of “health in all policies”. This would result in assessing and evaluating the impact on the health of every policy including those that might seem unrelated but that, in a One Health perspective, can in fact influence health (i.e. industrial policies, housing policies, etc.).
Take action at all levels of societies to heal the divisions exacerbated by the pandemic
The pandemic has brought to the forefront the growing inequality both within and across countries. Inequality is not only a matter of wealth and income but also inequality in access to medical and social services, access to nutritious food and education, discrimination in jobs, and the political sphere. This not only increases division in communities and reduces trust in governments and institutions but it also has significant effects on the health of millions of people both directly (i.e. health care and nutritious food) and indirectly (i.e. job – income – food or political representation – law – benefits). For this reason, the commission encourages the government to develop policies to address these inequalities and to gather data to measure these inequalities and the impact of the new policies.
Support innovation for better One Health
The current system of research and development in the public health and medical field is unfairly skewed in favor of private companies that reap the benefits of successful discoveries while the public sector is shouldering most of the costs and risks. These also lead to research paths aimed more at marketable and economically profitable results than useful or necessary ones. For this reason, and to achieve this enhanced version of One Health, the commission recommends that governments reframe the public-private partnership in a more equitable way sharing more of the risks and including the public in the decisional process.
Invest in strong, resilient, and inclusive national health systems
Another effect of the pandemic was to highlight how practically every health system in the world was underfunded and lacking in several major areas: from beds and respirators to trained nurses and doctors. This lack of funding is even more glaring when looking at primary/territorial health care and mental health care. This was the result of efficiency-driven policies that saved money but at the same time greatly lowered the resilience of these systems. When adding the role of the innovation dynamics described above, the result was exacerbated by the fact that most of the investment was funneled to complex and highly profitable medical procedures instead of prevention. For these reasons, the commission recommends countries to increase investments in their health care systems especially in primary health care, mental health care, and social care, and to “proactively prioritize the prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases”.
By Dr. Luca Mantegazza, Research Program Coordinator